Shelby TownshipJuly 10, 2012
Local artist reflects on design, unveiling of county war memorial
By Brad D. Bates
C & G Staff Writer
SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Norma Jean Randazzo hopes what started as a reaction to tragedy more than a decade ago results in a sense of peace and remembrance.
Following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Randazzo toyed with the notion of submitting a design for a national memorial in New York City before settling on a site and concept closer to home.
At the urging of and with help from her husband, Phil Randazzo, the Shelby Township veterans event coordinator, Randazzo’s design will come to life with a dedication ceremony at 1:30 p.m. July 15 outside the Macomb County Administration Building at 1 S. Main St. in Mount Clemens.
Her final design, titled the “Heart of America,” is not a national memorial for the terror attack victims, but one for Macomb County’s fallen heroes from the global war on terror.
“I was working the day the towers went down, and I remember telling the doctor that one of the towers had collapsed,” Randazzo said, recalling the tragic morning of Sept. 11 as she worked at the John D. Dingell VA Hospital. “My boss looked at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’”
Randazzo, a retired intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army Reserve, said her time working with veterans at the hospital, where she has spent more than 20 years and where she and Phil met, guided the memorial’s design.
“The feelings and the thoughts built it,” Randazzo said of the design.
Experiences such as her relationship with Phil, who was awarded two purple hearts and two bronze stars from his time serving in Vietnam; seeing the effects of war on her father, a veteran of World War II battles, such as the Battle of the Bulge; losing her first boyfriend to an enemy’s bullet in his first month in Vietnam; and the scores of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan she regularly sees at the veterans’ hospital contributed to the design process
“I thought about my father, Phil, my ex-boyfriend,” Randazzo added. “They were all in my mind, and I wanted to show respect for them.”
Randazzo said the specific experiences with her father’s post-traumatic stress disorders following his time in battle to helping her husband through his trials as a combat-wounded Vietnam veteran and helping the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan recover and readjust to home gave her the mindset to approach such a monumental task.
“You have to be inside to really know what they’ve gone through,” she said. “That’s why it takes so long for a veteran to be home before anyone understands what they’re going through.
“I know the approach to (honoring) veterans evolves with the different wars or conflicts because there are different things going on.”
Randazzo said she drew inspiration from the way the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., represent the conflicts and their soldiers, and that she tried a similar approach with her design.
“It has to be unique to each one, but they are all fighting for the same reasons,” she said. “It’s like a diamond with all the different facets.”
The memorial, in the shape of a pentagon with twin towers at the top to honor Sept. 11 and the names of all the county’s fallen soldiers engraved on the sides of a 9-foot column, will sit in front of the flagpoles outside the building that’s flanked on both sides by Gratiot Avenue.
“This memorial shows why those guys went over there to fight and die,” said Phil Randazzo, who has worked since 2004 on fundraising more than $10,000 for the organization and construction of the memorial.
“This memorial shows that these guys went and fought and died to avenge those people who were killed in the Pentagon and in the Twin Towers.”
Along with honoring the fallen heroes, the Randazzos hope that the memorial helps the families of the fallen grieve and remember their loved ones.
“I’ve got a lot of stories,” Phil Randazzo said of the importance the memorial took on as he formed bonds with the families of the fallen.
“I had one father who said he wanted to make a donation to the memorial, but he wanted to send it to me personally. When it came in the mail, I opened the envelope he sent me, and in the envelope with a check were his son’s dog tags. He wanted me to have those.”
Experiences like that intensified the Randazzos’ desire to make sure the memorial was done right and showed them its greatest value within the community.
“I wanted it to be a touching memorial for the friends and families,” Randazzo said. “The sun will warm the stone, and they can touch it and know peace. If they miss that person, they could go there and be with them for a moment.”
And the emotions of those families and all of the veterans that have touched her life will not be far from Randazzo’s thoughts as the memorial is officially unveiled.
“It will definitely touch me,” she said. “I have Phil there, and he takes the brunt of (the attention), so I’m lucky that I will be able to stay in the background. I’m sure it will hit me deeply, though, and I’ll be proud of Phil.
“And I’m going to be having the emotions of the parents of those who are going to have their names up there. Those people will be the ones. It will filter through me what they’re feeling."
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